Protecting Loudoun’s Rich Historic and Scenic Heritage
Below are the introductory comments of Childs Burden, President of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, at the Coalition Festival on December 6, 2015, in Leesburg.
The Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition performs good work in monitoring and responding to threats which arise from population growth that is expanding at an exponential rate. The mission of the Coalition is to preserve and to protect the historical and environmental resources within our county. This is very closely aligned with the mission of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, which is to increase the awareness of and the appreciation for our local history and heritage.
We are here this afternoon because we live in a county that is undergoing tremendous change and that change is threatening the loss of nationally important historic resources and extremely valuable historic landscapes.
The 1960 census counted 24,000 residents in Loudoun County with just two population centers – in Leesburg and in Sterling.
When my wife and I arrived here fifteen years later, Loudoun had grown to 44,000 residents. Twenty years after that, when we formed the MHAA in 1995, the county had grown to 117,000 residents.
Today we have 365,000 Loudoun citizens and in five years it is estimated that 55,000 more will have moved here.
We all know that Loudoun County is among the fastest growing counties in the United States. The speed of this growth also underscores the fact that the vast majority of people living here are recent arrivals. It is estimated 7 out of 10 Loudouners have been here for less than 10 years. That means that 70% of our population have little knowledge or understanding of the tremendous historic resources that we are at risk of losing due to rampant growth and inappropriate zoning that permits too much residential housing which in turn drives the need for more roads and schools and which directly endangers our ability to interpret the stories of our history, our heritage and our past.
The Mosby Heritage Area Association became 20 years old this year. Back in 1995 we were all stunned at what nearly happened when Disney announced that they would build out a 2,000 acre theme park at Thoroughfare Gap near Haymarket in order to teach us about our history. Clearly, that development would have destroyed the battlefields in and around Thoroughfare Gap and it would have severely affected the 5,000-acre Manassas National Battlefield Park, which tells the story of both the 1861 First Battle of Manassas as well as the 1862 Second Battle of Manassas. Altogether, these battlefields witnessed more than 30,000 American casualties and represent hallowed ground that must be saved and interpreted for generations to come.
We were then and we are now – a grass roots organization that is dedicated to education and preservation. Our watch words are “Preservation through Education” as we strive to teach about our unique area and our historic landscapes. Here in Loudoun we have tremendous assets – assets that we should take pride in and assets that must be prudently preserved.
- The 1863 Battlefields of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville
- The 1862 Battlefields of Philomont, Unison and Upperville
- The 1861 Balls Bluff Battlefield
- The historic homes and history associated with Oak Hill, Oatlands, Morven Park, Dodonna Manor, and the many other homes we have on the National and Virginia Historic Registers.
In addition to these resources are two of our most cherished institutions: The Thomas Balch Library and The Loudoun Museum.
And we are blessed to have the quaint villages that draw thousands of visitors each year who travel to western Loudoun County to experience what we have to offer and, coincidentally, what we are trying to protect.
Aldie, Middleburg, Waterford, Lovettsville, Purcellville, Unison, Philomont, Round Hill, Hillsboro, Lincoln, Bluemont, as well as the African American settlements established after 1865 such as St. Louis, Gleedsville, Maxville, and Willisville– each tells a story of how Loudoun County began 258 years ago with the coming together and blending of the Tidewater gentry with the Irish, Scot and German immigrants – all seeking a new life on the frontier.
It is vitally important that the stories of these marvelous towns and villages be preserved and that we continue our efforts to protect the rural landscapes that make them so special.
And we are making progress in that effort!
Today, Loudoun has more than 65,000 acres in conservation easements that dramatically reduces possibilities for development upon those acres. That is nearly 20% of the entire county, and a very a significant percentage of western Loudoun. Our neighbor to the south, Fauquier, this year surpassed the 100,000-acre milestone in easements, representing almost 25% of the entire county. These beloved landscapes in both counties have become a destination for heritage tourism visitors who come here to spend and enjoy and in so doing they are driving job growth and revenue growth to the county without the liability associated with residential development. Thanks to the good work of the Coalition, the county now has a Preservation Heritage Plan on file. Five years ago the county created the Loudoun Heritage Commission, which is charged with identifying and advising the BOS about threats to our historic fabric. The Coalition is also diligently working for the preservation of our rural roads system, a road network that defines our historic landscapes. During the past 8 years, the Coalition has grown to 28 member organizations – each with its own membership base that can rapidly activate an impressive grass roots support system which can make our common preservation message clearly heard in Leesburg.
Our time to make a qualitative difference here in Loudoun is short. The tidal wave of growth crashing upon us threatens to destroy much that must be preserved. Must be preserved so that those who come after us will understand and appreciate from where we have come – both as a county and as a nation. As David McCullough so aptly reminded us in 1995 at the Mosby Heritage Area’s inception: “How can we tell where we are going if we cannot even tell from where we have come?”
Together we must endeavor to ensure that this needless destruction does not happen. Together we must dedicate ourselves to commit to the cause of preservation of the landscapes, structures and stories that define as Virginians and Americans. We do this NOT just for this generation but for the generations to come after us. We can leave no better legacy.